Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue listens as President Trump speaks about the coronavirus on April 17. A union representative said USDA leaders do not appear to understand the reality of working from home with children.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue listens as President Trump speaks about the coronavirus on April 17. A union representative said USDA leaders do not appear to understand the reality of working from home with children. Alex Brandon / AP

USDA Resists Providing Extra Flexibilities During the Pandemic for Forest Service Employees with Children

U.S. Forest Service workers said they are burning through personal leave juggling telework and child care, but that their agency has declined to provide additional time off as others have done.

U.S. Forest Service employees said Friday that the Agriculture Department has been effectively blocking the agency from providing paid administrative leave to teleworking employees who are juggling agency business and caring for a child, despite the fact that the practice has been authorized by the Trump administration.

Employees at the Forest Service largely have been working remotely since the coronavirus outbreak began, except for those involved in what the agency considers essential functions like firefighting, law enforcement and timber sales. But performing a full work week has still been a struggle for employees with children, many of whom report that they have been burning through annual leave when they can’t reach 40 hours a week on the job.

“Unlike many agencies, USDA’s policy has always been that if your dependents are in the house with you, you can still telework, so long as your timesheet accurately reflects the amount of time you spent working vs. the amount of time you spent caring for them,” said Melissa Baumann, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees Forest Service Council. “The issue is really just the number of hours in a week and whether you can actually physically get things done.”

Some agencies, like the Interior and State departments, have sought to combat this quandary by offering teleworking employees with children at home 10 hours per week of paid administrative leave. But Baumann said she has been repeatedly rejected when she brings up those policies with Forest Service management, something she thinks is driven by leadership at USDA.

“We have a good relationship with our managers, and I raised this as an issue, with the understanding that [the Office of Personnel Management] has provided specific guidance on being able to do this and [the Interior Department] is now doing it,” Baumann said. “But every time I bring it up, I get told about how you can flex your time [to perform work during non-business hours]. Now that’s nice, but that doesn’t make there be more hours in a day. One employee I spoke to has a special needs child, and she said, ‘I was up until 8 [p.m.] helping with homework. When can I work? How can I possibly get this done?’”

Baumann said her union conducted a survey of bargaining unit workers, and found that although employees without children rated how they were “coping” with full-time telework as a 3.6 out of 5, that number fell to 2.4 for those with children. Employees with children reported taking an average  of 15 hours of personal leave per two-week pay period for the purpose of child care.

A USDA spokesperson seemed to confirm to Government Executive that the department's policy is not to provide additional leave to teleworking employees with children, suggesting it would be unfair to do so while other employees at the department have essential or otherwise nonportable jobs.

“In assessing the flexibilities that USDA provides its employees that can telework from home, USDA must also consider the fairness to our front-line workforce who must work 40 hours (or more) a week on-site but also are faced with the same challenges of closed schools and day care centers,” the spokesperson said. “[OPM] guidance has indicated agencies should maximize telework to the fullest extent possible. USDA is following that direction. USDA has provided its agencies a variety of flexibilities to support employees to include allowing employees to adjust or stagger work schedules, completing work over six days (Monday through Saturday), using leave, taking leave without pay and changing to part-time work schedules.”

Baumann said the department’s mantra of remaining “Open for Business” also irks employees struggling to fulfill both their professional and family obligations.

“Part of it has been the messaging from USDA . . . A week or two ago, [Secretary Sonny Perdue] talked about how an employee built a shed at the edge of their property because they couldn’t get wifi in their home,” she said. “That’s what’s making us crazy: the complete blindness to the reality of what it is to try to work at home with your children in rural America where your internet might not be that good anyway.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.